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Wednesday,  February 1st, 2006

I should have mentioned yesterday in between being bedded with bouts of fever and bad coughing I managed to upload and make pages for half my Thailand Orphanage trip 2005. Here is the link and in a short time I will be uploading more. Just hover your cursor above a link to see if it is active yet.

Thailand Orphanage Singapore Malaysia Three Pagodas Pass Burma Krabi

So yesterday when the VP came by I told him I would be taking today off as well. I should have known that meant nothing. I get a call this morning around 8:10 wondering where I was. Luckily for me I hadn't spoken in 12+ hours so my voice was shot. I was coughing and all hoarse voiced and I managed to say I wouldn't be in today, but I will try tomorrow.

Friday, February 3rd, 2006

I just read online that someone is suing iPod because the volume, which is adjustable, is capable of causing hearing problems. That is the saddest thing I have ever heard. In one sense, kudos for trying to make an easy buck off the big corporation, yet in a reality sense, shame on you. I think this is a major flaw in our legal system, frivolous lawsuits. Other countries have an easy way of preventing this. Loser pays. You have a stupid gimmick lawsuit and lose? You pay all legal fees. That makes you think twice about suing someone. If I were the judge hearing the case, I would ask if the defendant if he had a thumb and was capable of making a circle with it, since thatís all you have to do to lower the volume. Seriously who thinks of lawsuits like this? The best part is he doesnít even have a hearing loss, heís suing for other people. Iím almost embarrassed to be an American when I read things like this.

There are good things and bad things about living in a small town. Some of these are irrelevant to living  in Japan. A good thing is everyone knows you and usually takes care of you. A bad thing is when you go to the doctor and the nurse ends up telling everyone in town everything about you. I canít imagine that happening in a million years in other countries. If I was highly contagious and the nurse contacted my school, that would be another thing, but this was just general gossip. Then again I knew a girl a few years ago who went to the doctor and then the school sent a memo around about her condition. It was a female condition people usually donít causally discuss. She left Japan.

Since I was sick this week I havenít been going down to the elementary school. I really feel empty since there are a few kids that brighten my day. I always make a point to go down there and hang around and play with the kids and I always try to see a few of them. Just a wave through a window will do, because when they see me their faces light up. I love it, but this week I havenít gone near them because Iíve been feeling bad so I also feel a bit empty inside. Though today I managed to hang out with my favorite kids, the 3rd graders, while they practiced skiing.

Yesterday was the first day back from being sick. I feel %95 ok, but since I was out for 2 days being sick, they told me I needed to wear a mask at school. I can honestly say I physically hate wearing this mask. When I breathe my glasses fog up and I have this nasty habit of breathing every second. I took every chance to drop it so I could breathe freely through my nose. Today I am simply not wearing one. It should be part of a prison sentence. That and having to get a new postal account card or send money to Thailand.

In my classes this week and last I have been having them memorize things and repeat them to me. Itís a clever idea, because itís fun for them and they learn actual phrases and conversations. This way they might remember some grammar in the future or have times when they can randomly use that phrase. For the 2nd years they were learning phrases from the book. There were 16 and they could learn as many as possible, at least reciting two. Most did 10-16. Some of the phrases were:

I have a pen. I have two apples. What do you have for breakfast. How many colors does the rainbow have? Letís take a walk. I take a bus to school. Take a bath right now.

Some of the kids made mistakes, some were perfect, and some made great mistakes by combining two sentences accidentally. My favorite goof was Letís take a walk + Take a bath right now. = Letís take a bath right now. I would say ďreally?Ē and explain it in Japanese. They would get all embarrassed and say no no. I plan to make them memorize a lot of things for English speaking practice. They will have a lot of phrases to say whenever, and it will give them pronunciation and speaking practice. Then I will make other games based on these phrases. I want high schools to say ďoh you must have gone to Konan, because they have a native teacher and you have good speaking/pronunciation skillsĒ.

I made a note on my little notepad to mention how I have been let down by the snow. It snowed like mad in December, and then just off and on since them. I mean we got like 3 feet right off the bat, but since then not that much, at least not at one time. So as I wrote that yesterday I looked out the window. It was snowing heavily and it has been ever since I wrote that. So far for about 24 hours big chunks have been coming down. No wind, just thick heavy snow.

The more snow that comes down, the more I am determined to live in a warm environment for some extended period of time, hopefully Thailand. There are a number of things I want to do there, most of which is just relax and lower the blood pressure. Thatís always easy to do in Thailand for me. Itís just a relaxing place. Not everyone I know loves it, some prefer Laos or Malaysia, others just hate Thailand. I can totally respect that. I wasnít a big fan of Cambodia, but others love it.

However, I do hate Thai driving. I thought Japanese were bad drivers, but they are really just not smart drivers. They will pull out in front of people and run red lights and stop in the middle of the street. But in Thailand, honestly, itís a race everywhere you go. I seriously think it is an insult to be behind some other vehicle. We passed cars by using the other lane (when cars were coming), by squeezing between two cars, and once by getting on the sidewalk. Itís always a white knuckle trip in a Thai taxi. Also with the bus. When we went to the orphanage which is way up north near Burma, we took a big nice bus. But as we got close and up in the mountain region, the driver was hauling butt on the curvy roads going up and down hills. Not advisable to sit in the front seats.

So to summarize that ramble, after Japan, as I think I have mentioned several times because my mind wanders and I canít remember what I have written in the past even though I could just go back and read it, I will probably spend time in Thailand doing things such as volunteering at the orphanage, possibly teaching English somewhere preferably not in Bangkok maybe near the orphanage or even more preferable down South, and lastly I might explore Buddhism there. On another note, WOW, that was a serious run on sentence. I bet I can beat it.

I brought all this stuff to read and to work on since I only had one class today, but for some reason I havenít touched any of it. I have been busy. A busy bee. Sorry, that just sounded stupid. I have been making charts and lists and working on the point system I want to implement starting in April.

Ok the weather is getting truly weird. As mentioned earlier as soon as I said the snow was disappointing then it became not so disappointing. Now the weird thing is I mentioned above that the snow was coming down heavily, but there was no wind. Now the wind is insane. Pretty much as soon as I mentioned there was no wind. I mean itís worse than last week when it took me about 30 minutes to walk to school. So letís see what kind of magic I can produce. HmmmÖ

There are no tall beautiful single Japanese girls aged 25-35 who are computer programming black and white photographers that also speak 6 languages (English, Thai, Spanish, and Turkish at least) and love to travel and give full body massages and are really rich and have low self esteem but compensate by giving large amounts of money and pricey gifts to the slightly overweight American darkish guy they love. There are none of those around and I am disappointed. DISAPPOINTED I SAY.

Weíll see what comes of that. For some reason I just remembered a line from Gladiator when the new Emperor (Joaquin Phoenix Ė spelling) is talking about something that is troublesome. He said something like ďthat is vexing indeed. Thoroughly vexing. I am thoroughly vexedĒ. EhÖnot so funny when I type it out, but I remember in context it was witty and humorous.

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

My time in Japan is such a strange love hate relationship. Sometimes the culture makes me want to gouge my eyes out. Other times, like yesterday, I am happy to be the oddball. We were sitting around after having had lunch and a teacher asked if I was going to participate in the ski day on Friday. We will come to school as usual and then board several buses and go to a ski slope for the day. The kids have been learning to ski as a PE activity so going to ski as a school is like a big PE class. I said I would probably go, even though I canít ski (because it hurts my knees when I fall) and I didnít have any clothes. The PE teacher said I could snowboard. Then a few teachers started talking about my lack of ski clothes.

Before long someone presented me with a %10 off coupon. Wow, that will really help especially since there are some great sales around this time. It is well know that Japanese people always want whatís new. Last yearís models or fashions are out of style quickly. This goes for most every aspect of their culture including TV and movie personalities. The prices of ski and snowboard wear and gear are already going down since the ski season is nearly over. Then the Principal said ďwhy donít you take off around 3:30 and go to Xebio (zay B O) Sports and check out what they have? And Hashimoto sensei can go with youĒ. Wow thanks that sounds great.

So 3:30 rolls around and we get ready to leave. Then someone gives me a vacation time form to fill out. Ha ha, ok, no problem, even though itís funny the way it seemed like I could just go. But this is Japan so I didnít even flinch, I actually acted like I knew I had to take time off and forgot to fill out the form. This involved apologizing repeatedly and bowing a lot.

Finally we are off. I stop at the post office (since I am boycotting the bank system (though system sounds like things working together, which they donít)) to get money. I am trying to save for my massive car tax in April so I can only spend about $200. Plus I donít want to get $1,000 ski wear if I donít end up going a lot. Plus I canít imagine paying $1,000 for ski wear. So I have the money, then I stop to get gas, then I wonder why I am writing every irrelevant detail about this, then we get to Xebio. We go in and get to the ski wear department. The clerk comes over to us and asked if he is Hashimoto and I am Ryan. Wow, that was interesting. He said yes. The lady said that Mr. X had already called and said to take care of us. I assumed it was the principal, even though his name is Saito and she didnít say that.

I try on a few things, not because I was picky, but when you are size FAT your selection is limited in Japan. In the US it would have been no problem, I am about average, but in Japan I am XXXL. I tell them I prefer dark colors since growing up everything was tan. Our house is tan, half our cars have been tan, we are tan, many of my jackets and clothes are tan, anything that we owned in the 70s and 80s that came in a tan model was bought in that tan model. Even my old Japanese website was tan. So I wanted black, plus people say I look better in black. Hmmm, they donít say I look good in black, just better. I just noticed that. Anyway, finally I find a jacket I like and it even has a little iPod pocket with a secret area to run the headphones. Then we have to find some pants. There are only about 3 pairs in the store that will fit me so I try them all on. I like one pair that is grey or gray and has black patches.

Ok, all that is done. I check the price and it adds up to about $310. Ouch, canít afford that. I tell Hashimoto and the clerk the problem and he says no problem, just wait. So then I leave and go look at goggles. I had to get a special pair that would go over my glasses since contacts donít stay in very long. I find a cheap pair for about $40 and bring them over. Everything is all wrapped up and ready to go. I remind Hashimoto that I only have $200 and he says not to worry. We get to the counter and everything adds up to $199.99. Then I give the coupon and it goes down to $189. Which seemed odd to me since %10 of $199 is not $10, but who cares I still got an amazing deal. It would have been even better if I had waited another month or so, but that would have involved me looking stupid and poor in front of my kids and then again on the FuJET $5 ski day. On the way out I ask Hashimoto who was Mr. X and why he was able to get a big discount. He told me he went to school with the Vice President of this company and they write it off as an educational school discount. Apart from the vacation time thing, which was only 1 hour, it was one of those really great things about being a foreigner in Japan.

On Saturday of last week or this week, the 4th, I went into Koriyama to kill some time and just get out of the apartment. Since I had spent two full days in the apartment and not at school, I was especially anxious to get out. On the way there, on the icy roads, I nearly hit a bus. I really should have hit the bus and I donít know why I didnít. I was coming around a curve, perhaps a bit too fast (not really fast, just too fast for an icy curve) and there was a bus more or less (more) in the middle of the road. Not really its fault since it is a wide bus. I slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel and just slid straight for it. The bus stopped and just sat there. It would have crunched up my right headlight pretty bad since that was heading straight for the busí corner bumper. But then at the very last minute I just stopped. I was about two inches from the bus. Wow. Youíd better believe I was Mr. Alert the whole rest of the trip.

Then I get to a store and was just wandering around. I wanted to check the price of a taller bookshelf since I am addicted to buying books about learning Japanese and then hoping I will pick it up through osmosis. I also wanted to get some kind of case for my calligraphy brushes and tools. First I find the case and then I am just wandering around looking for nothing on my way to the bookcase area. Then I notice a security guard blatantly following me. It didnít bother me so much that he was following me, it bothered me that he was being so obvious about it. If I would stop he would stop near me and look at something. Then when I would move, he would stay about 10-20 feet behind me. I really had no intention of shoplifting, especially in Japan, but I had to do something to trick this guy. I moved around the store never acknowledging I knew this guy was on me like glue. Finally I found a place where I could lose him which I did. He came barreling around the corner and nearly hit me. Then he just stood there acting like he was looking at something. It couldnít have been any more obvious. I let him down by not stealing anything, this timeÖÖÖcue dramatic music.

At school this week I have been having the kids memorize various things. They kept making mistakes as I mentioned above. One such mistake was ďlets take a bath right nowĒ. That was a mixture of letís take a walk and take a bath right now. This week another class was learning a part from The Wizard of Oz. It was the part where, and I have this memorized now, Dorothy was asking the good witch about the bad witch. She starts with ďI thought you said she was deadĒ, ďthat was the wicked witch of the East, this is the wicked witch of the West, sheís worse than the other oneĒ. Itís really good practice for them to memorize these things and I am going to do it more and more in the future. So anyway, most everyone did great and the mistakes were boring, but one mistake, coupled with a smart kid, ended up being rather humorous. The line was from the mentioned part above, ďthat was the wicked witch of theĒ, but the kid didnít say witch, he said watch. That was the wicked watch of the East. It would have been no problem except one kid in the group was really bright and heard the mistake and knew what it meant. He grabbed his wrist like he was holding his watch and moved it around hitting other kids in the group and fake-yelling. He was saying ďoh no wicked watch, oh noĒ. It was quite funny and I gave him extra points.

Now itís about 3:30 on Wednesday and I only had two classes today. Tomorrow I will show my JHS 2nd year (8th graders) the movie E.T. since they are studying it in their textbook. Itís really just an example and there is some story about it, but I made them learn all that tough stuff last week and this would be both internationalization and English education. It will take about three classes, so the other English teacher told the schedule making teacher to give me two back to back classes next week. Then the week after that I wonít have any for the 2nd years. That will be better than stretching the movie over three weeks. Itís 115 minutes and the classes are either 45 or 50 minutes, but we never start dead on the starting time, so I calculated about 40-45 minutes depending on the schedule. Three classes at 40 min would be fine, but with two classes back to back, I only need to give them a short break rather than 10 minutes, which ends up being 15 minutes. So that will be about 80-85 minutes next week and then whatever time it takes to get things started this week. It should work out perfectly and actually help their other English grammar lesson.

I just got back from the mini ski slope we have behind the school. I mentioned it before when I went sledding with Mami-chan and she hurt her hand. This time I just watched some students go down it. Some of the kids were great, even the ones that are terds in class and some of the students that have learning disabilities. One of the hot shots was really lousy which was funny. When the younger kids were sledding last month the slope was a bit steep like a capital J. Well not quite that arc-ed at the bottom, but still bad. Then this week on Monday and Tuesday I noticed bulldozers working in the area. I assumed correctly, they were making the slope less J-like. Itís more -like. I plan to use it on weekends when if I buy a board or skis. Iíll probably need to buy skis also since itís kind of a ďthingĒ for me to board on ski day rather than ski. I could get by with skiing, but it does hurt my knees in a twisty way when I fall. Next year I plan to take advantage of the ski lessons given to kids. It does hurt to ski, but if I am going to get free lessons, then I might as well learn how to not fall and get better. Plus skiing at school, during school, as part of school is just cool. It makes me drool like a fool. Sorry.

Iíve been filling out some form to get a new post office ATM card. I know something is wrong with the form. Well I am doing the best I can and donít know anything specific, but I know there will be some kanji slightly wrong or something over a line and it will cause me to have to redo it. Itís not a big deal, I am more or less used to these things. Very rarely do I get it right the first time, or I should say very rarely do they let it pass the first time. I think I need some other form proving I live where I live, even though everyone at the post office knows me and my address. Rigid formality. It wouldnít be Japan otherwise.

I am about to practice more Japanese calligraphy with a teacher. Again I will be learning/practicing, she will be teaching. Man my teeth are hurting really bad. Like all of them and all over the place. I need to figure out what is going on. The only change I have made recently is a 14 day detox program I just started. Itís a pre-mixed mixture I bought from a place in Australia where I have bought other things. I think the teeth are related to the kidneys so maybe that is being flushed now. I hope itís that and I donít suddenly have 35 cavities. Either way itís annoying. If it gets worse I will probably stop the detox, even though I am taking the minimum dose. If I have to go to a dentist I can go to the one with that cute receptionist I hung out with back around Halloween.

These metal walls come up in the winter to block the horrible snowy wind that blows. Sometimes
you can't even see the road in front of you. For some reason these walls don't have a lower part
which lets some of the snow wind pass through. It almost negates the purpose of having them.

Ha-lay-lou-ya. I can't spell that, but that's how I feel. A 24-hour 7/11 with an ATM. Even though
they are changing the name to stupid 7i & Holdings. What a dumb name for a convenience store.

Am I about to perform surgery? Nope, this is what you wear when you are sick. Why? Because this small mask will block %100 of all my sickness. Ignore the gaping holes on the side of it, just know it is the Japanese way.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2006

Wow itís almost been a week since my last confession. I have been meaning to make an update, but I just havenít. I havenít been any more busy than usual; I just have the attention span of wallpaper and forgot what I am sitting down at a computer to do. I have to make notes and then notes summarizing the other notes otherwise I completely forget major engagements or responsibilities.

Friday we had the big school ski day. I got to school around 8am dressed in my ski wear. We then boarded 3 buses and went to a nearby ski slope. The kids were split into ability groups and each group had a professional instructor. They were good too. I mean they spent half the time skiing backwards while helping a slower student. I had trouble enough skiing forwards and they were going all over the place. I had originally said I couldnít ski since it hurt my knees, which is true, but when we got to the slopes and I saw there were instructors, who spoke no English, I figured I should ski so I could pick up some tips. Plus if I were to board, it would virtually be as a total beginner, whereas I could probably ski down the entire slope. Albeit slowly, but still I am better at skiing than boarding. Though I plan to take some lessons from the world renowned Marchell Linzey, a local Kiwi who taught himself to board.

Marchell is a funny guy. Once when he was drunk he took at glass from a beer hall and kept demanding it was his and he brought it. The glass said ďAsahi Beer HallĒ on the side. Another time he went camping, but it was really dark and he couldnít find the mountain hut he was supposed to stay in for the night. He eventually got tired of walking in the dark and just set up camp. When the sun rose he noticed he was right on top of the hut and only need to walk another stoneís throw.

Anyway, I plan to take lessons from him on the FuJET 500 yen ski day. Itís a great deal where people related to FuJET can ski all day at a nice slope for 500 yen. Itís been going on for several years and has something to do with the Inawashiro town hall. I plan to help the new FuJET crew with the ticket passing out (bad English) since it is a hassle dealing with 100+ people all at once. Marchell will be there offering a free or cheap snowboard lesson. Canít pass that up.

So after the ski day we had a party in Koriyama. I had to get a hotel room since I wanted to drink and donít like staying with other people. There are a number of people I could stay with, but I am old and donít like depending on other people for things like that. I want to come and go as I please. Walk around scantily clad. And go to sleep / wake up when I want. Plus there is a place right by the station where I can stay for about $40 a night. Itís not nice or new, but it is cheap and convenient. After the party the other teachers were gathered outside the restaurant. I got the feeling they wanted to go to a second party and didnít want me to go. I doubt that was the case, but I always worry that I get in the way sometimes. Teachers always feel like they have to try to speak English around me even though I can usually pick up most of what they are saying. So I said goodbye and searched for another bar where some friends usually hang out. Itís called Godís Party. There is a bar in Fukushima city called God Funky Paradise as well. So I found Godís Party and went in. There were some people I hadnít seen in years which was cool. I hung out there for a few hours then left. The reason everyone likes that place is drinks are only $3 as opposed to at least $5 at other places. Plus there is no tipping so the drinks are really $3. As I was leaving I saw a few late comers enter the bar. Itís socially cool to be really late these days. That annoys me. When we have parties or events or something, itís like people make a point to show up 3 or 4 hours into the event. Sometimes that causes problems like when itís all you can drink from 8pm to 1am and people start getting there at 10-11. Then they complain that there isnít enough time. Get there earlier.

Saturday morning I just didnít want to go back to Konan. I like it here, but I just needed to be out for a while. I found a movie theater that was playing the English movie ďFlight PlanĒ with Jodie Foster. I had seen the previews and didnít care either way about seeing it, but it was in English and started in an hour. I wandered around a bit and then bought an $18 ticket. I will never again complain about ticket prices in the US when movies are $18 here and arrive 6 months late. Anyway, the movie was ok. Not great, but not bad. It was predictable at parts, but the ending was unexpected. I didnít mind seeing it. After that I walked back to my car which was a good 40 minutes walk. First I walked to a mall, actually called The Mall, and found nothing of interest. Then I walked across the street and down a bit more and had sushi at Kappa Sushi. Finally I checked out this place called ďRelaxation SpaceĒ. Itís hard to tell if these places are legit or sex shops. This place looked like some half gym half chill out area half massage chair place. Itís like three stories and really nice looking. I got a brochure and will have someone figure out what it is.

Then I headed back and just lounged around the place doing nothing of interest. Same as Sunday. I didnít do much, though I did manage to watch another one of those old movies I bought for $5. So far I have about 20 or 30 maybe. I buy a few each paycheck. I think I watched ďThe Great ZeigfeldĒ based on the true story of Florenz Zeigfeld. I am misspelling all or part of his name. It was interesting for a while and then got slow. There are about 100 total and I would like to eventually buy then all.

Today is Valentineís Day in Japan. That means girls give chocolate to boys. I forgot about what day it was until I saw some students give chocolate to a teacher. Then I started to get sad and think what if I didnít get any chocolate. Just as I was thinking those sad thoughts two elementary sixth graders came and gave me some chocolate. Guys give chocolate to girls on White day which is one month away from Valentineís Day. So I plan to give all the girls/females at the school some chocolate and the students that gave me something special will get something special from me. So far itís only been three students, but we just ate lunch so maybe more will bring me stuff. Sadly I donít really want more chocolate since it makes me break out, but the gesture is nice. Maybe students could just come by and act like they are giving me chocolate.

So Iím thinking itís not going to work with Eriko. I do like her and Iím not sabotaging the relationship, but I just never get to see her. The last time I saw her was December 10th. Then when I came back from Thailand she said her grandmother died and there is a tradition where mourners donít do anything fun for 49 days. Ok, thatís mid-late February right? I assumed she would want to see me the day that was over, but nope. She said she is already busy until March, so I made an appointment for March 11th. I just feel like she fills up her appointment book with her other friends and then fits me in when there is space. I have asked her about it and she says she is just busy, but other people I know arenít THAT busy. Plus there is only so much you can do on weekends. In March she is moving to Osaka which means I wonít be able to see her more than once every three months, but thatís really the same as how often I see her now. I started to think I should follow her one time to see what she is up to really, but that means I have trust issues and shouldnít be in a relationship at all with someone that I donít trust. Maybe she is actually just that busy, but either way seeing someone once every month or two is no relationship. Weíve been together for maybe a year and 4-5 months, but only seen each other 12-15 times. At one point I lived about 20 minutes from her. But distance is not the issue, I would walk 500 milesÖnot really, I would drive up there to see her every weekend if she had available ďappointmentsĒ.

Last Thursday I showed the movie ET to two of my classes. My second year JHS students. This Thursday I will show the rest of it to them, so I have to watch the movie twice, which is better than 8 times like other schools, but still itís hard to watch a movie twice in the same day. But itís perfect timing since they are studying about the movie in the current chapter of their English textbook. When they saw it Thursday they all opened their books and found a photo of the scene on the screen. There are four scenes in the book and we have seen two so far. They got excited about that as well as the fact that itís just a good movie. They are hearing English and reading Japanese subtitles. For the last 30 minutes or so I might let them listen to Japanese, and show English subtitles just to make it easier for them. I want them to appreciate the movie rather than learn English from it. But Japanese students usually donít pick up English just from hearing it. Itís a cultural thing.

Another cultural thing is how Japanese society has been noted as being scripted. There are books about this. The claim is that in ancient times and even today, certain things are to be said at certain times, like an actor. Historically if you said the wrong thing at the wrong time you could be punished, even by death. This has been obvious to me for a while and I was happy when I read it since it proved I wasnít just being a negative ninny. Ha, ninny is a word. It became painfully obvious recently when we had a farewell party for a teacher who is about to give birth. About 20 students lined up to present her with cards and say various nice things. Well I thought they would be varied, but they werenít. There is one thing you say to pregnant ladies and variations are not tolerated. Every student said ďplease have a healthy babyĒ. Then we clapped, they bowed and the student gave her something small. It makes it easier to learn Japanese because you just learn when to say what phrase and you can anticipate what the person will say back to you, but sometimes itís hard to think like that. I often translate thoughts from English in my head, but thatís not what you do. You do as you are told. Resistance is futile.

[later]

I just had a fun class with the 1st year JHS students. That would be 10th grade in the US and I donít know how other countries do it. The class was about answering the phone and saying things such as ďhello, this is so and so, is someone there?Ē. I used some of the time to talk about various pranks Iíve played relating to the phone. One was when I answer the phone rather than saying ďhelloĒ I would say ďIs Jon thereĒ, if I knew it was Jon calling. Sometimes you can trip up the person and make them think you called. Another one is recording a message that says something like ďhelloÖÖ.helloÖ..I canít hear youÖÖ.what?...who is thisÖÖgoodbyeÖ..Ē. Finally I talked about how calls cost money if you make the call in Japan, but free to receive so occasionally I call someone and then quickly hang up. That way they think they missed the call and call me back. There was another one, but I forgot it. I called that part of my internationalization. The kids thought it was funny, plus it was just after lunch and they were in a giggly mood. Plus the class is always in a giggly mood.

Now I have free time since the 3rd graders are having a test so the teacher said I donít need to go. Iíve been using my time to write. Iíve been working not on my book based on my journal, but on a collection of short stories about Southeast Asia. Most are sad, but they are all based on true stories although I have had to alter several details to make the stories work.

I ended up getting chocolate from two elementary students, one junior high student, and then from all the female teachers. They gave it out as a group. That sounded bad. The funny thing was the note attached to it said "From the Konan Team of Beautiful Women". But that is somewhat of a colloquial translation. Here's what it actually said:

I was told it meant "from all the beautiful women at Konan", but when I looked up the specific readings of the characters I didn't know I found it means "from all of the army of beautiful women [at Konan]". When I pointed that out to a teacher he found it amusing.

I didn't get chocolate from kids that I expected to, and I did get it from kids I didn't expect. Like the two ES students, they are nice, but more or less background kids. I'm not being mean, but they just don't stand out in class nor do we chat much. Never really. And we don't have a special connection or relationship. I don't want that to sound bad, but with some students maybe I wave a certain way or say their names a certain way or do a special high five. One girl is named Nana, which is also how you say 7 in Japanese, so when I see her I  hold up 7 fingers and she laughs. But I didn't even know these girls' names until they gave me chocolate and I made a list of who was giving me chocolate. I will give all the girls/ladies chocolate on White Day, but I will give some extra special chocolate to the three that gave me some today.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I broke my toe. The best I can figure is when we had the school ski day the boots were too tight. Well actually I do remember the right boot being much tighter than the left almost to the point that it was a different size. I did have some foot pain on the slopes, but I assumed that was from the boots just being tight. Ski boots are supposed to be tight and in Japan they never have my size so I have to get a size or two smaller. So that was last Friday the 10th and since then my foot has hurt, but not terribly bad. Only Wednesday did I start limping slightly.

I mentioned it to the school nurse and she quickly responded in the standard Japanese way.

YOU MUST GO TO HOSPITAL.

Well Iíd rather not for a number of reasons. The main reason is my mother broke a toe a few years back and all the doctor could do was tape it to the toe beside it. So if that is best solution American doctors have, I doubt there are any ancient oriental secrets here. So I taped it myself last night in my apartment. I used an old sock I cut up and then some packing tape. It seemed to work fine except for the fact it starting hurting like the devil. I think what happened was I fractured it slightly, maybe a hairline fracture. I could feel it occasionally from Friday to Wednesday, but it didnít hurt. So then I was bending my toes and stretching them a bit so maybe I caused some damage. Since last night itís been hurting bad. It hurt worse when I wrapped it, but I know that needed to be done.

Then today I get up at 5am since it was hurting and tried to go to the bathroom. I hurt like #&%$ to put any weight on it, but today was a big day and I had to come in. So I managed to limp to my car, which really hurt, and then drive to school, and then limp in. I was really just dragging my right leg like a pirate because the lifting and swinging part is what killed me. I told the nurse about it as well as googling the remedy for a broken toe and she said she would give me some pain medicine later. Then I got wise and asked one of the coaches what he would do. He had me take off my shoes and show both feet. My toenails arenít the best site because of a fungus or something. So then he put a cold pad bandage on it and then wrapped it to my other toes. A few times he was just man handling my toe and I was kicking and almost crying. I mean maybe broken toes don't hurt this bad for other people but it is killing me.

Later I went to the school clinic and she gave me some medicine. I put my foot up since I didnít have a first period class, but that actually hurt worse than having it down. Then we spent 30 minutes trying to look up Podiatrists in the area. I actually spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to say podiatry in English. When I typed it into her Japanese-English electronic dictionary there was no listing so I thought I was spelling it wrong. I still donít know the word in Japanese for it. Finally she found one nearby, but the pain medicine had already kicked in and I didnít think I needed to go to the doctor. The medicine has worn off now and it is hurting again. Iím going to try to take the second dose as late as possible so it lasts through the night.

At some point I had a class where were are filming things. I was in bad pain and another student did most of the work which was good, it was fun for her. In between that class and showing the rest of ET to the next class, I went down to the elementary school and talked to the kids. The 6th graders are making a big banner that they will run through when they graduate in a few weeks. I told them all about my toe and said to be careful. You never realize just how many things bump into you until you have an injured body part. Balls and jump ropes and xylophones and kids all came near my feet which them caused that cold dropped stomach feeling because I knew it would hurt like the devil. Luckily I avoided it all. I have three classes tomorrow, but no plans. One elementary school 5th grade and 2 classes with the JHS 3rd years. I do have an amazing ability to come up with something clever at the last minute. Iíve always been a last minute guy (not a one minute guy) when it came to being creative. I would never do rough drafts of reports or projects and always start on something at the last minute. Not entirely because I am lazy and procrastinate, but mainly because I usually just donít have anything to say before the last minute. Even now sometimes I have a class and think of something an hour before. Recently I had a special class with just one student. I knew about the class for a week, but simply had no plan or any idea of something creative. Then I had this idea to write a long string of words that overlap and make her circle the words. It was a full page of big text so maybe about 20-30 words put together. It would be like teacheredogoodoessay. Well spellchecker didnít like that, but she did. I made it to last about 10 minutes and then we would play Boggle, but it took her 30 minutes and the she wanted to keep the sheet to practice. Wow.

I just thought of doing some kind of I Spy where the kids, in groups, say ďI spy something redĒ and then other kids guess. Maybe they can say I see since spy would take a while to explain. Oh now that I think of it spy translate the same as the word enema. Plus there is a stupid thing they do in Japan called kanchou, which is how you spell spy and enema in Japanese. They shove their fingers up your butt, like an enema. I hate it. So yea if I do that it will be the I See game. Now I am going to research a homemade Pictionary or Taboo game.

I just re-read that long word up there and noticed, just like before, there is a new word. I typed teacher - red - dog - good - DOES - say, but it looks like dog - good - do - essay. I guess either would be right. When I made one for her I had nothing as a word, but she circled not and thing as separate.

Friday, February 17, 2006

There is just something about Fridays that makes the whole day feel good. I remember when I worked on Saturday, Sunday, at Monday at the worldís dumbest and most poorly run company before coming to Japan. It felt so unnatural working on Saturday. Even more so trying to relax on Tuesday when I had a day off. All my friends were at work and it just had a Tuesday feel. Today has a good Friday feeling.

My toe is considerably better, even though it still hurts. I was able to sleep with no pain. The only time it hurts is when I walk and even then mainly when I am on uneven ground or steps. I took some Bufferin pain medicine this morning and that really makes it hurt a lot less. When I got to school I was moving around so much better than yesterday. Even so, the lead teacher and principal both heavily suggested I go to the hospital. Just the sound of that annoys me because I hear hospital, even though they mean a hospital or clinic. To be honest I would go for any thing other than a toe. A finger, a buttock, a knee, my pinky, anything that is not a toe, I would happily go. [unintentional rhyming] But I have searched the web and talked to people and they all say the only thing to do for a broken toe is to tape (or staple) it to the toe next door. So I have done that with the help of the soccer coach. I keep saying I would go, but all they are going to say is I have to tape it to the nearest toe and I can do that at home. Plus the nurse said, and I agree, if the pain is gradually getting better then itís healing. They are just worried since it was probably a school related injury. But they are killing me with the pampering. The principal just told me he would drive me to a meeting in Koriyama next Tuesday and I could take a taxi back at the schoolís expense. I told him I drove to school today and itís really no problem. They are being insistent that I go to the doctor for this and itís really bugging me. I can walk much easier than yesterday and I can only imagine that by Monday I will be near normal. However, if I am in pain tomorrow then I actually will go to the nearest clinic that handles things other than colds.

The kids are making this huge banner that they will run through. Iíve been watching/helping them when I have free time. Itís about 10 feet high and 20-30 feet long. I canít really judge distance in feet anymore since this is a meter based world. It has some odd flying fish going up stairs, and depictions of kids doing things in bubbles all around it. I will try to get a picture of it before they destroy it.

Speaking of free time, I was supposed to have 3 classes today, but either the schedule was changed or the new art teacher made a mistake. The kanji for art class is similar to the kanji for my classes which actually translate to ďdisplayĒ. The kanji for art is and the kanji for my class is . Yea I guess they are really only similar at the top and even then only if you glance at them in the dark after having rubbed your eyes while cooking something with peppers, but I have confused them occasionally.

I just had a class with the elementary 6th graders. I got the idea from the above mentioned drawing. We played Pictionary, and it was an average success. It would have been better but a few kids just turned stupid for a minute. I mean one girl spent the whole 1 minute allotment drawing elaborate hair and eyes, when the clue was simply sad. When the time was up I just drew a frown and all the kids yelled ďsadĒ. Other kids freaked out about having to draw a spider. I mean itís a spider. Itís a ball body and 8 legs. In the end it was ok, but at times it was just annoying because the clues were so simple.

Speaking of spider, I am actually thinking about going back to Thailand during March. I found a cheap ticket for about $400 and I have about 10 days to spare. I would spend virtually nothing there apart from maybe $100 involved with getting to/from the airport and to/from the orphanage and staying in Bangkok the night I arrive and the night before I leave and that would include food. Then another $150 getting to/from the airport in Japan and about $200 at the orphanage including my sponsorship money and a donation I would make to cover bills and food while I am there. Plus I wouldnít leave until right after payday and I could put most of that check in savings since I would be gone for most of the time and wouldnít need it for food or spending money in Japan. But I must save $5-700 this and next paycheck for my every two year stupid rip off car inspection which should be around $2,000 because I have a big beast of a 4wd car. The other thing I am saving for is China this summer, but thatís going to be around $3,000 including airfare and the tour we are taking. There is one Northwest Airlines flight for like $750, whereas all the others are about $1,200. But I donít know if I can get that one in time. So best case scenario it would be 1500+800ish+500 local spending. Thatís $2,800 and I am not including a few things like getting to the airport. So I guess either I will do China or go back to the US for a month maybe. Summer is too nasty hot to go to Thailand, plus that would be a little sad to go that much especially since I am going in March possibly. Just checked and the NW flight is now at $850, but the other flights are also at $1,500. I wonít pay $1,500 to fly 1,000 miles. Itís just dumb. Of course itís the non-Japanese company that has the reasonable fare. Before I pay $1,500 I would get down to south Japan somehow and take a flight or ferry from Fukuoka.

So hereís another aggravating conversation I had recently. First let me explain Japanese people write their name in Chinese characters. Foreigners write their name in a script that is for imported words. Sometimes we can have Chinese characters for our names, for example my name can be written as which means safety is coming. There is another way to write it that means come to my house. There are multiple ways to read names as well. Some Kanji characters have multiple readings like can be read as both Kanno and Sugeno. There are many examples like this. When people write their names on forms or at restaurants they write the Kanji and then also the Furigana (foo dee gah nah). That is the stick like language for imported words. Itís also used when things need to be pronounced. So my name is usually written Which is ra-i-an  ma-ku-do-na-ru-do. I frequently mispronounce my own name.

[Tangent] If foreigners mispronounce Japanese peopleís names itís considered rude. But my name is not makudonarudo. Itís McDonald. If I were to hold Japanese people to this standard I would constantly be saying ďthatís not my name, I am offendedĒ, but the response is always ďthatís just how we pronounce your nameĒ. So why canít I have a special way of pronouncing peopleís names? Double Standard.

Ok, back to the thing. I am at a place filling out a form. It has a space for my kanji characters, of which I have none, and above it for the furigana reading. In the Kanji space I write my name in Katakana which is how my name is written in Japan. I give the form to the clerk person and hereís how it goes:

 

Man: Iím sorry I canít read your name.
Me:
Oh, Iím sorry, did I write it poorly?
Man:
No, I canít read this because there is no furigana reading above it.
Me:
But it is in Katakana. If I write the furigana it will also be in Katakana and look the same.
Man:
Do you see this line, maybe you canít read it, itís for furigana.
Me:
Which is written in Katakana right? The same as this here.
Man:
Yes, I understand. But furigana is to show people how to read your name.
Me:
But it is written in the same language as this here. It will be the exact same.
Man:
Yes, I understand. But furigana is to show people how to read your name.
Me:
Why am I arguing? This is Japan. Resistance is Futile. I should know better than to argue this point. I could have written my name ten times while having this conversation. [I write my name again]
Man:
Oh thank you, umÖMr. McDonald. I will process this now.

 

Resistance is Futile. Man that is the perfect phrase. That sums it up to a T. Or to a Tea. However that is written.

I just found out the schedule was changed and either I missed it or no one told me. Thatís fine because my plan for them was just memorizing ďLet it BeĒ, by the Beatles. As I walked to class I realized the song wouldnít be the best since half is just Paul saying ďLet it BeĒ over and over. So maybe I will have them learn Imagine, which is a good thing to know anyway. I hate singing, but I hear songs are good for kids. I should make them learn some songs next year. I will have a good plan mapped out in advance so I wonít have to think of things at the last minute, or at least not so much.

I had to submit my plan for my special ďselected classesĒ the ones where there are usually just a few students, but hypothetically they chose to be in a special English class. However, this year I have one class with two students. One good one and her lazy friend who wants to be with the good student and never leave her side. So all activities involve me teaching the one girl and the other girl doing whatever she does. Argh. Anyway, I made the plan and saved it and gave the flash drive to the teacher. A few minutes later he asked me what ďplabĒ means. I said I donít know. Moments later again, ďp-l-a-b what does it mean?Ē So I replied I donít think itís a word. He kept asking in different ways and I kept saying I didnít know. Finally he asked why I saved the file like that. I looked and rather than Ryanís Plan, I hit the B, which is right beside it. Plab. Kind of a fun word. I wonder if there is a plab.com.

[Moments later]

Well someone registered it, but hasnít done anything with it. I wonder what it could mean. People Learning About Boobs. Eh, most likely not that. Oh, there is a plab.org and itís a French site or some foreign language I canít read. Plab.net is a Japanese site.

I just spent about 4 hours making this elaborate Excel spreadsheet that would randomly pick words from the Ministry of Education approved English words list and drop the first letter and concatenate them together to make those word chains that I mentioned. Like 4 hours or more. But in the end it wonít work. There are too many words that end in letters that only have a few words beginning with those letters. I just confused myself. For example maybe 50 words end in Y, all the months and days of the week and so on. But there are only 3 Y words. I donít know Y. Heh, sorry. The words are You, Yes, Yesterday. Sometimes something like Tuesday would pop up and then the Y would cause Yesterday to pop up and then I have a %33 chance of getting Yesterday again. In a test of me hitting refresh about 50 times, more than 45 times the words repeated over and over.  I figured I could have handmade about 20 lists of words in the time it took me to make that useless sheet. But I did figure out some wicked functions. I first got good, got well, became good, whatever, at Excel when I worked for a company that printed the phone books for several states. I had a weekly project of pulling numbers out of other spreadsheets and plugging them into mine which then made calculations, predictions, forecasts, and so on. Then I realized all the numbers I pulled were from the same cells in a file with a standard patterned name each week. I first made a script that opened those files and captured the numbers. Then I modified it to check if the file had been created and then open it. Then I had it email my pager when the file was created and it had captured the numbers. Then I scripted something else. Finally I had it do 4 days worth of work in one day and double check itself, and print out a nice report and cover letter dated and signed (via a scanned signature). It even printed everything on the relevant printers of the recipients. But it didnít print these things out until Friday, the due date.

Then I got laid off about 3 months after I perfected the spreadsheet. But man did I get good at Spider Solitaire during those three months. I was laid off for other reasons, they still thought I was an efficient employee. When I had some time in between card games (or my butt went to sleep), I would walk around the office staring at papers mumbling about accounts and productivity. Other times I would call some friends in the estimating department and ask what jobs they were estimating (figuring the cost) and then I would walk down there and let their manager hear me ask about those jobs. People really thought I was on the ball there, and I could have progressed up the ladder eventually. But it was a company that printed something like 6 Billion, yes Billion, paper phone books and I canít see that remaining like it is throughout the future. Not with everything going digital.

I just had a call from my bossí boss. He was trying to get me to ride with the principal to the meeting on Tuesday and then take a taxi back. Which I really just donít want to do since they would probably put me in the taxi the minute the meeting was over and I have tons of things to do in the city. I really need my car, plus I want to buy some things to bring back and I donít want to be in a taxi for 40 minutes. I kept saying it would be fine, I am much better today, which is all true. I am just going to stop telling people things about me related to health or anything that will cause a fuss.

Speaking of fuss, during lunch I mentioned I needed some form to transfer my address to my new place. Everything requires an official form in Japan. I had to fill out a form saying I was going to the local town hall to get a form that proves I live where I live so I could take that form to the post office and fill out another form to change my address and another form to send money to Thailand. Then I would fill out a form allowing me to drive home and one allowing me to open my door. Then there would be the bathroom form and turning on my TV formÖ..But anyway I go to the place, with a teacher because I canít walk and am a helpless infant (by canít walk I mean I can walk with a limp). I fill out some form that asks my name (in both katakana and katakana again, that crazy furigana) then my address then my age. I give it to the guy and he types and calls and types and talks to people. Then he, seriously, fills out another form and gives it to someone. They write on the form and give it back. Then he tells me  they donít do foreignerís addresses here and I would have to go to city hall in the city, which I am coincidentally going to on Tuesday. The teacher with me thinks I need this form more urgently than I do and he is asking if there is anything they can do. I causally tell him to not worry about it and in Japanese I say ďthereís always a problem. I have come to expect things not running smoothly because I donít have the right form. Itís no problem. Iím used to everything taking twice as long here. I can wait until I go to city hallĒ. I wasnít being rude, just saying I try not to get mad because things never run efficiently here. I hope the people didnít think I was being rude, but oh well.

I just tried to take a Mensa IQ test. I donít know why I tried it, especially since I couldnít even understand what the first question was asking me to do. Man I feel like a big stupid dumb head now. http://www.mensa.org.uk/mensa/puzzles/brainteasers.html#IQ.1 

[update] I did get one right, or I'm pretty sure I did. [spoiler] It's the one where you double the number and add 1 to get the answer.

Monday, February 20th, 2006

I have made a discovery regarding the pain in my toe. Well not entirely a discovery, just a possible theory. Well it is definitely a theory, so itís a possible connection. Anyway, Last Wednesday when the toe started throbbing like the devil, I had had (sounds odd) two or three cups of coffee. When I have a lot to get done I drink coffee since it makes me hyper-productive, and sometimes hyperactive. When I drink coffee, I have to use about 6-7 sugar cubes to make it taste how I like it. So really itís like ďcan I have some sugar water with a dash of coffeeĒ. Anyway, I drank, letís say three, cups and my toe started hurting. I didnít make a connection. Then today I came in and my toe is nearly %100 and I have a lot to do and only two classes, so I drank a cup of coffee. Then I noticed my toe starting to hurt as I drank the morning coffee. Now it is hurting only slightly, but more than it has all weekend. Must be something to do with all the sugar that I have to use.

Well next week is going to be a busy week. Actually it starts on Saturday. FuJET has itís 500 yen ski day and I am helping with that. Then that night a friend from Fukushima city will crash with me, David, and then on Sunday we will attend a meeting at the convention center. The meeting is about the upcoming international festival. Funny how it is an international festival, but we have to have someone who speaks Japanese at the organizational seminar. At this meeting they will tell us about how things will work and then all sorts of stupid rules that make no sense. There are always rules like that. Things that I canít figure out why we have to do to save my life. Then Dave and I will have lunch or something and he will be on his way. Finally on Wednesday I will take the day off and go to Fukushima Higashi High Schoolís graduation since the kids leaving were my first years when I came so we have a special connection. Then I will drive back. Then the very next day, I will take off an hour early and drive back to Fukushima city for the graduation ceremony of Chuo High School, the night school that I had so much fun at. At which so much fun was had. Then I will go to a party afterwards, but not drink, and finally drive back to Konan. That should be it for the week, but then two weeks later on the 11th I should be going to a nice Ryokan, which is a special Japanese hotel, and then the next day I have the big international festival where David and I and some helpers, technically I am a helper, will cook Philly Cheese Steaks. He is from Philly and knows how to do it with Native Flair, and I have assisted him the last few times he made them so we have a routine down. It should be a good event though we wonít make any money. We are going to charge 500 yen for something that is worth 400 yen and then say that 100 yen goes to Dadaís Boys. Which it will, as I typed that it sounded dodgy, but we will really make the donation. We should be a fair amount, especially if we have a box out for other donations.

[later]

The principal just came over to confirm he was driving me to Koriyama tomorrow. I had to remind him we have already established I will drive. I have several things to do and it will be a mega-hassle if I donít have a car. He wanted to make sure the upper boss knew was driving myself (being problematic). I told him everyone had been kept abreast and itís all ok. Now I need to get into a wreck tomorrow so I never hear the end of it and can never drive again. I do appreciate the concern, but occasionally it borders on babying. Iím not completely helpless and sometimes that assumption gets annoying. My favorite thing is how it flip flops though. When itís convenient I am a government employee and should act like one, when itís not convenient I am a helpless baby who needs hand holding. Joy.

[later]

 

ARGH.

I made it all the way home then my mobile phone rings at 6:30. It was from my boss' boss at the board of education and I knew I shouldn't answer it. I also knew if I didn't answer it someone would come to my apartment. They told me I have to take a taxi tomorrow. I have to take a taxi for 50 minutes and then take a taxi back. ARGH. This really makes me angry because the whole reason I was told to get a  car was to drive to and from these meetings, now they are saying I can't drive to and from these meetings. I just gave in and said ok, but I am going to let it be known, through casual channels, I feel like a baby. There had better be no other people from the Koriyama apartments driving to this thing tomorrow since the reason was my school is so close to my apartment so they can't make my car a public vehicle. ARGH.

And yet on some level I knew this would happen. When they keep asking/suggesting something and I keep being not Japanese and making my own decisions based on logic, they always manage to just say "oh well this is how it will be" in the end. So basically I am going to take a taxi tomorrow. Then watch the tea ceremony then go to city hall and take care of some things. Then take a taxi back then drive straight back to Koriyama in my own car since

I HAVE THINGS TO DO.

That I can't do in a small town. I don't mind living in a small town and to an extent I prefer it, but people should take that into account. There is no bank, no dry cleaner, no city hall, no place to cancel my old mobile phone, and no other things that are convenient. The people in Koriyama can get so much done since it's all right there, but for me I look forward to these "research days" all month so I can get things done. Now it turns out I can't get things done on them. Like sending money back to pay bills. That has to be done during banking hours, and really before three.

See I am already cooled down about this. I don't know if it's because I wrote it all out, which is the point of this journal, or if it is because I have grown accustomed to the absurdity of Japanese culture. I have said it before and it still rings true today, when you want to know how something will work in Japan think of the logical efficient way, then think of the opposite. Every time. I didn't get mad at the local town hall place because I knew going in that something would be in the way. It's not me being a pessimist or being negative it's from experience.

My toe is still hurting and I hope it's from the coffee. Tomorrow I am supposed to participate in a tea ceremony. One of the parts of participating in a tea ceremony is sitting on your knees for a long time. I will say it now, that is going into the category of things that are not going to happen. Either way, no or coffee for a long time. So strange.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

I really tried to be positive and open minded about the taxi thing. I mean hey I get a free ride there and back. But no, it was just an inconvenient hassle. He drove me to the place and dropped me off on time even though I was hoping we would be late, so I could say "well if I had driven....". But then the tea ceremony was over at noon and everyone rode off on their bikes. Except for me. I had to walk to city hall, a good 1-1.5 km. Hey big deal I need the exercise right?

Wrong.

I have a broken toe that won't seem to get better. Hmmm, now why not? Because I am always walking on it. So then eat lunch and take care of getting all my forms which allow me to get other forms. Then I call for a taxi and ride back to Konan. As soon as I get out of the car, I get into my car and follow the taxi back into Koriyama. I go by the post office and take care of three things. First I get my address changed in my postal account book. This allowed me to then send a postal money order to Thailand as well as request a new postal account ATM card. Fine all that's done. Then I go by a pharmacy, of sorts, and get some more pain meds, surgical tape (that's what it's called), and some chewable Vitamin C tablets. Then I hit the Vodaphone place and cancel my old mobile phone which I have been paying for since August, but not using. Then I went to a place called "the mall" and bought some various things as well as a tall bookshelf. It was only $20 there. Then to the station where I bought some stuff at the electronic place. A better headphone/mic combo and a 256mb clip drive. That gave me a free parking ticket so I ate dinner there. Then I drove back and tried to get a haircut, but I was too late since they closed at 7.

I was as busy as a bee. Are bees really busy? I guess they are with all the hive building and honey collecting, but it seems like other animals are more busy. Maybe bees don't sleep. I know fish don't sleep so why not busy as a fish. Maybe because that sounds dumb. What about leopards? They have to hunt down their food everyday. Busy as a leopard. Busy as a panther. I guess they go for the alliteration aspect of the B sound, even though true alliteration requires three continuous sounds.

Anyway, I am going to take a writing class online soon. I want to explore writing at some point. People have said they enjoy this, but I can't really consider this anything other than babbling. Letting people see my inner insanity is therapeutic until al this is used against me as evidence that I am not sane enough to stand trial for something. Anyway, I'm going to take a fiction writing course first and then something else maybe. They are about $200, but seem to be worth it. There are assignments and feedback and so on and so forth. Ok, going to set up my bookshelf and populate it with my collection of every book about learning Japanese ever written. As you were.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

You just donít realize how often you bump your feet until you have a broken toe. People have kicked me accidentally, I have kicked desks and poles and carts, things have fallen on or near it, and people have nearly stepped on it several times. I guess this happens normally, but you donít realize because it doesnít hurt as bad. My toe pain has gone way down, but having to sit and walk yesterday didnít help any. I should be alright from here on out. Just usual classes today and tomorrow and Friday. Then I will go to, but not attend ski day, which really sucks because I was planning on taking a free board lesson from someone, but my toe just doesnít feel like being in a boot. Especially a ski boot and preferably not a boarding boot, even though those are looser.

I just had a class with the soon to be graduating 3rd year students. We were reading this long 5 page story in their books. Overall itís a nice story. Itís about a leaf that is worried about dying when autumn comes. I liked it the first 10 times I heard it. But now that I have heard it over 100 times I hate it. About 10 students always pick it for the non-original speech contest. Of the two students who can enter from each school, one can do an original speech, and the other a pre-written recitation. At almost all the speech contests Iíve been to at least 5 kids do this. You soon grow to hate it. But overall itís well written and is a nice little story about change.

Here is a funny picture someone sent me. It's his hair, not a hat, look closely.

 

I have some other shots to upload soon, but now I have to call home to see if my sister had her second baby.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

I know I make fun of Japanese culture quite a lot, especially the inflexible rigidity of it. Itís something Iím just having trouble adapting to. Itís something to which having trouble adapting is being had. But I will mention one thing that the culture has done perfectly. The service industry is amazing. Any job, no matter how menial, that deals with the public will almost guarantee you perfect service. Even to the point that you feel bad that they are going to so much trouble for you. I had a haircut last night. It was about my 3rd or 4th during my 3.5 years in Japan. Usually menís haircuts are around $30-40 and I just donít want to pay that for someone to buzz cut my hair with a 15mm shaver. So I found a place in Koriyama during December that is only $10 during the week and $12 on weekends. When you pay the full price you get all sorts of little perks and superior treatment. They shave your neck/beard with a straight razor, put a hot towel on your face, massage your face and head a bit, and much more. Iíll just go to the cheap place and deal with the lesser service.

Lesser service my butt. Itís nearly the same service as the upper one. I go in and someone takes my coat. Then as I sit down my personal barber, stylist, barbing technician, whatever, comes out and asks if I want the usual. I sit and a case for my glasses is presented. I donít even have to stretch my arm to reach it. Then two people wrap the towel around my neck and the hair guard sheet as well. Then my hair is barbed to the ut most precision with a number of checkpoints built in. Each time I am to check, the second person hands me the case with my glasses, again I donít have to stretch. Finally warm shaving cream is put upon my neck region and I am shaved with an old fashioned straight razor until my neck is as smooth as a babyís bottom. (For the record I write that because it is a set phrase. I canít imagine asking to see a babyís bottom and then trying to justify it by saying ďoh it really is as smooth as they sayĒ). Then when itís all over, my glasses are once again handed to me and my coat is held up so I can just step into it. Then I leave to a throng of thank yous and goodbyes. There are so many examples of the service industry making it so I donít want to return to anywhere that is not Japan.

[tangent] I am watching three students get chewed out by a teacher. Most likely itís something small since they are good students. Oh wait I think I know. I think they were the students playing on the big accidentally built snow slide in front of the school. Hereís a picture:

It was built because they had to have somewhere to move all the snow from the front of the school because we are having a famous singer come to the school tomorrow. She is Japanese, but her friend who is also coming is Swedish I think. Now they both live in Sweden or Switzerland. Some Sw- country. Not Swaziland though, itís a cold Nordic type place. Anyway, they are coming tomorrow to perform a song one of them wrote about either our school or our area. The area most likely. They printed a big sign, which had her name slightly misspelled and I caught it at the last minute seconds before he pressed the print button to send it to the mega-plotter. Her name is Keiko McNamara and they didnít capitalize the N. I explained it was like my name which is McDonald. Itís always written Mcdonald which annoys me, but I donít say anything because it is trivial. Anyway, the kids were being chewed out about that, so itís not so trivial, since there are signs that say ďdo not enter Ė do not play here Ė no means no Ė negative entryĒ, but they did anyway. I really donít blame them itís a huge perfect ski slope. They were just sledding down it, but itís still a no-no. Anyway, the point was when you get chewed out in Japan by a superior there is one thing you do, even if you werenít to blame. You put your head down and take it. You nod or say yes you understand and just take it all. There is a clear and distinct hierarchy in Japan and it means people above you are superior even if they are idiots. They are above you, they have paid their dues, you are a young fledgling and must listen to their complaints. Here it was justified, but at other times itís not. Sometimes itís someone who was just promoted to the upper position showing their new strength. Thatís when itís annoying. [tangent complete]

Well my sister had her second baby today or yesterday, at some point. I canít seem to calculate the time difference. It was supposed to be at 2:22pm on 2/2, but she didnít go with that plan. Which was my plan really, I just thought it would be a good trivia thing to say you were born on 2/22 at 2:22. Iíll have a special party for her at 2:22pm on 2/22/2022 when she turns 16. Oh that can be her sweet 16 party. Man that seems so far away, but so did 2000 at one time. Now itís 2006, as you know, and soon it will be 2010. I think that is the point at which we can start saying 20-XX for the year. You canít say ďletís talk about it in 20-09Ē that just sounds dumb. That sounds like 29. I think it starts in 2010.

Thatís four years away. I wonder where I will be. There was no way I would have known I would be here 5 years ago. Well letís see I decided I hated my life and wanted to gouge out my own eyes while kicking people and calling them names during the fall of 2001. So then I applied to the JET program/programme then and was accepted and left for Japan in 2002. So pretty much before fall of 2001 I wasnít thinking about actually being in Japan for a living. Now I plan to stay here for 3-5 years total in this job and then I would guess I would leave Japan. I canít imagine really being in Japan at another job since overall this one is really good. 4 years from now, hmmm, maybe Thailand. Maybe the US, but I want to see who is in office at that time. I might check into teaching in some European country. That area would be nice to live in for a while, being able to see Europe and that area. I doubt I would want to teach English in Russia. That would just be weird and I canít imagine they, nor China, have as well organized (well sometimes) as Japan does. So in conclusion, I donít really know. Maybe I will get married and still be in Japan, but I am going to put that too in the doubt-it category.

So hereís another thing thatís funny about the group mentality. When memos or ideas or anything written get processed, that basically means everyone in ďthe groupĒ has to approve it. Ideally, each person will get a memo or form of sorts and read it and offer their unique and valuable feedback, then sign off on it. By sign off I mean press their name stamp. But in reality, think about the number of forms that get processed by any business or school during the day, then think about how we have some contractual quota with paper companies to make sure they chop down at least 100 trees per day. Each of these forms ends up on the lead teacherís desk who sits right beside me. At any given time he has a stack of about 10-20 clipboards with forms on them. Do you really think he reads them all? He is the lead teacher and has tons of other things to do. He glances at them at best and then stamps them. Thatís why it took so long for me to get hired with the Koriyama Board of Education, nearly 50 people had to review my application and give their thoughts. It was like everyone in the BoE, even though I only deal with 18 of them on a regular basis, and really only about 5. There are two supervisors and then 3-4 upper management people. When I go there I have to immediately greet and bow to the people at the desk, even before I speak to anyone else. I must acknowledge their status on the hierarchy. Here at school when someone wants to give something to the guy that makes the schedule, it has to go through the lead teacher, the vice principal and then the lead teacher again, and finally the math teacher that makes the schedule. Even when it has nothing to do with anyone elseís class and even when the person requesting it IS the math teacher who makes the schedules. Thatís so Japan, you gotta love it.

I had a class with the first year students, which would be 7th grade in the US. I tried out my word chain idea. Here I have a picture of one on a curvy line:


Part was cut to upload here, it loops around and connects with the top part.

At first it didnít go great. People were circling the wrong words or circling parts of words that had smaller words in them like ďdidnítĒ, but they would circle did. I tried to explain the last letter is always the first letter of the next word. Finally in the end it started working better and students were actually sounding out words which is what I wanted. Next time I will say there are X number of words and no word is shorter than 3-4 letters and/or all words come from the text book. A few kids really got it and did great, others didnít do great. In the end, I think it is a good idea, but it needs work.

After school I had a last minute interview practice with 11 kids. I wish I knew about it before now so I could have had more practices, but they didnít tell me until two days before the test. It was a good practice for them and most would have been completely lost without it, even though most will still fail the interview part. But thatís alright, they can take it again and we have plenty of time to practice before then. One kid was even a first year testing at a 2nd year level, then again his father runs a local after school practice school and teaches all subjects including English. Iíve told the kid if his father wants to have dinner sometime we can speak English, but itís never happened. Maybe he is embarrassed about his English or the kid just never told him.

Itís 7:30pm on Thursday and I am still at school. I had some things to do so I did them and then I had dinner. Someone was ordering dinner from one of the two restaurants in town and luckily they deliver. So we ate for about 20 minutes. Earlier, after the English interview test practice, I studied English, rather I helped someone study English and the calligraphy teacher watched. She had wanted me to teach her, but we havenít had time to get together. So she watched and said it was a little advanced for her and she really just wanted speaking practice. Well thatís a relief because teaching writing is hard. So from next week we are going to use the 2nd year students textbook and I will throw in some other tidbits of knowledge. Ok, itís 8pm so I am leaving. As you were.

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

What a crazy weekend. I am glad it is over. Actually I am going to make this update later, I am beat.

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Ok, I am all rested up now. Well Friday we had some Japanese pianist come and play a song she wrote about the area. She also brought a friend, Irene Robbins, who is American but lives in Italy. She sang in English and the kids loved it. After the show they pulled me into the principalís office and Irene and I spoke. She was so excited to speak to a native speaker. I just chatted about nothing. One funny thing about the convert was that, and this is no exaggeration at all, we spent more time giving speeches and doing ceremonies related to her playing, than she actually spent playing. It was a short concert, maybe 30 minutes or so. She sang her song and some piano pieces and then her friend Irene sang some stuff in English. I think the kids understood enough. We are writing thank you letters to her in my classes now.

Then Sunday we had the FuJET 500 yen ski day. It went much better than in the past and I think that is due to making people pay in advance. Last year we had about 150 people say they were coming and then only 110 showed up. This year we only had about 5 people not come. The funny thing is, and Iím glad this happened to the new FuJET people, they set a firm deadline since we had to tell the ski place how many. Then as late as the morning of the event people were calling her saying, not asking, but saying ďyea we need to add 2 or 3 more peopleĒ. Itís so funny. Some people from Miyagi, a nearby prefecture, came to the event as well. They had extra people but they were uber-cool about asking. They said more people were on the way and if there was any possible way it would be great if they could get the cheap tickets. If not, they were still willing to pay the full amount. See thatís nice, we really wanted to help them and in the end were able to give them some discounted tickets. I am truly thankful for the experience of FuJET because it taught me a lot about people, both good and bad.

Then David Kowalski was going to stay at my place so we could go to a meeting about the international festival coming up, but instead we decided to go all the way back to Fukushima city and go to someoneís party. It was a lot of driving, but overall Iím glad I did. I reconnected with some friends and even met a dentist that owns a place in Fukushima city. He speaks minimal English, but he is young and seems nice. The funny thing about him is he is a dentist, but his parents make candy for a living. The name of his place is Mew Mew. As in the sound a cat makes. Then we go to Karaoke, but I have to leave early since I was so tired and everyone was smoking. I hate when people smoke in a small room. To me itís just rude. Smoking in general is a nasty disgusting ignorant habit, but in a small confined space, itís rude.

The next morning we drive down to Koriyama and get sushi for lunch and then go to the meeting. I saw several old friends (well up to three years) and we reconnect. I met a nice Pakistani guy who owns an Indian food place in Koriyama and he gives me a map. I plan to go there soon. Then we have the meeting. It was done in true Japanese style.

First we are all given handouts. The handout says the usual official stuff. One thing of note is at all times we must have at least two staffs at our booth. I told Dave as long as we have two tall poles it should be alright, but he pointed out that would be staves. Oh well. Then they talk for a while. We are in a nice top floor room with a round wall and a great view. Oh they need to show a projection of something, letís close the blinds. This is automatic, but takes a noisy 5 minutes. Ok 20 minutes later this presentation is over. Should we leave the blinds as they are and just turn on the lights (which is perfectly fine) or completely open the automatic blinds? Hmmm, tough call. This is Japan so letís pick the option that makes the least sense. So for five more noisy minutes the auto blinds open. Then we have another speech and come to another presentation. There go the blinds closing. It was truly ridiculous. Look at the agenda. Count how many people will make presentations. Just leave the blinds closed and turn on/off the light. Nope, this is a logical statement and is disregarded. The absolute best part of the meeting was when they spent no less than 30 minutes teaching everyone how to speak polite Japanese. Let me clarify.

Japanese people, were speaking Japanese to Japanese people to teach them how to speak polite Japanese to other Japanese people.

Then we had a lesson on bowing and how to bow. I would think the people in the room have probably bowed in a variety of ways over a million times each in their lifetimes. Furthermore, it was an international festival. We are not going to be bowing or speaking Japanese to customers. I got the impression we were going to internationalize people as long as we did it in an acceptable way. If we didnít do or say certain things at certain times, people wouldnít be able to accept internationalization. It reminded me of my corporate friends in the US who talk about how much they love sushi. Then when we go out to eat at a sushi bar, they order things that donít have raw fish. Just veggies rolls. They just like to say they eat sushi since it cool. Just like people like to think they are being internationalized, even though it must pass through their acceptability filter.

So that was over and I dropped Dave off at the station and then had a small Starbucks coffee and bought a few more $5 movies. Then I wobbled back to my car and went home. My toe is nearly healed, but it is a toe and I have to walk on it so itís not healing as fast as another body part might. Then I made it home and sorted everything out and went to sleep around 10pm. I was exhausted from the whole weekend. This coming weekend I have no major plans. I might see a movie and try to find the Indian food place. But then again on Wednesday of this week I am going back to Fukushima city and might have Indian food then. But maybe I will eat gyoza instead. Then in two weeks I am going to a nice ryokan, or Japanese style hotel, and then Sunday I have the international festival.

Today I had two classes. During the other times I worked on various things for the festival and some random computer stuff. I am setting up an English Challenge website for my kids. Then I looked at getting one web server that I could put several sites on since now I am using a few sites and doing it a roundabout way. I found one for $30 a month that should allow me to combine all my sites to one server and make management much easier. I am about to add three more so I really need to centralize it all and $30 is just a bit more than I am paying now. Currently I pay per year, but it comes out to be around $15-20 a month. I would pay an extra $10 for the added convenience, plus I hope to add more sites soon.

So the name of our Philly Cheese Steak booth is called Booya Steaks. We are going to yell ďBooyaĒ when Dave makes a sandwich. I am going to print a big sign soon on the mega plotter at school. I am also going to print a big map of the US and show where they come from. One thing I am worried about is someone will also be selling Jambalaya in our booth. I think thatís great to combine the two and show really ethnic food, but I am worried about space and logistics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

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